Report on French video game studies

Content Warning: In the articles presented here, we will discuss situations of abuse, harassment, assault, suicide, etc. which may be violent to read for those who have been subjected to such situations.

The experiences of our STJV comrades, the testimonies and feedback that the union has received directly, through alumni networks and our teacher colleagues, make it clear that the video game education sector, as a whole and in a systemic way, is harmful and destroys lives.

A public call for testimonies on students conditions (article in French) the STJV launched in early 2020 allowed us to confirm that the problem is much more widespread and, above all, much more serious than we originally thought. At the time of publication, we have collected around sixty testimonies concerning more than 30 schools, including the best known schools in France.

The suicide of a student at LISAA in December 2020 (article in French), followed by an internal repression by the school to cover up the event, had pushed us to accelerate our efforts to inform the public about this situation, and in particular to contact journalists to alert them to these issues. Thanks to our contact and based first on the corpus of testimonies at our disposal, they were able to launch their own investigations to confirm our information and then publish a series of articles on video game schools in Libération and Gamekult (links at the end of the press release) mid-April 2021.

The cool aspect of video game production, which industry companies already use to keep salaries and working conditions down, is also exploited by schools who take advantage of it to attract more and more young people ready to pay huge sums of money to try to make it their profession.

As everywhere else, as in the rest of the video game industry, mechanisms of economic, hierarchical, sexist, racist and ableist domination, as well as active repression from school managements, tend to prevent any improvement of the situation and to reduce (at least in appearance) the capacity for action of those who want this improvement.

These mechanisms also contribute to emphasizing inequalities and discriminations throughout the industry. Starting at the admission to schools with discriminatory selection processes and prohibitive prices, this only becomes more pronounced during the course of studies with every possible means: the near impossibility of having a job alongside classes due to the heavy workload, the scarcity and mismanagement of work-study programs, the unequal access to equipment, the pressure to do internships in any given city, without pay, etc. The diversity problems of the video game industry begin directly during studies.

The vast majority of the problems we have seen are caused by the commodification of education and students. Private schools remain above all businesses: they are therefore subject to profitability imperatives. This profitability has more or less importance depending on who owns the school, with in the worst cases groups or investment funds that treat schools only as cash cows whose profitability must always increase at the expense of workers and students. Even the best intentioned managements (when they are!) cannot escape this reality imposed by the capitalist organisation of the economy.

After nearly 2 years of work within the STJV, we come back in this lengthy report to the problems found in video game schools, the things to watch out for when it comes to studying video games, and what we can do and demand to prevent entire generations of people interested in our industry from continuing to be bled dry every year. We will only talk about video game schools here because that’s our sector and that’s where we have the most information, but with few exceptions, all of this applies to all of private higher education.

The size of this dossier means that we have to publish it in segments. We will publish sub-sections regularly, which will be accessible via the links below.

Part 1 – State of play

  1. Studying conditions are often appalling
  2. Students are being exploited for the benefit of schools’ image
  3. Educational standards are highly questionable
  4. Schools do not make students ready for entering the labour market at all
  5. These conditions lead to the reproduction of the industry’s problems
  6. Schools are serving the industry, not their students

Following our discussions with teachers and students, and considering the testimonies we received, we realised that these problems were not just common, but systemic. If at the beginning of our investigations we thought that the less known a school was, the more it tolerated abuses, we had to face the facts: all schools and curricula are affected.

It remains impossible for us, at this time, to name a private school or training programme that has not shown serious dysfunctions in recent years. One particularly chilling point is that we have heard of situations of harassment or outright sexual assault targeting female students in all the schools and programmes on which we have collected testimonies.

While it can be said that private education seems to be more affected overall than public education, this does not mean that the public sector is exempt from problems. Some of the lesser-known public programmes are organised in the same way as the private sector and, although they may be different, power struggles exist everywhere, even in the most prestigious public schools.

In most cases these problems emerge and persist because of the inaction of school administrations and/or the financial groups that own them. They are unwilling to give themselves the means to protect students because of nepotism, opportunism, economic concerns, lack of empathy, or ignorance of the situation of their students.

Part 2 – Paths forward

The problems and discriminations present at the general society level can therefore be found in video game education, concentrated in a series of socially homogenous spaces creating an omerta, where all victims’ voices and attempts to fight back are harshly suppressed. If students environments are prone to this, it is not only because of its specificities. The causes of these terrible situations have the same roots as those found in work environments in general.

They are first of all economic: companies’ financial motivations, which are impossible to avoid under a capitalist economic system, make their profitability prevail over the living conditions of students. This problem has been reinforced in recent years by the creation of monopolies in private higher education, with increasingly large investment groups absorbing independent schools and smaller groups. Not coincidentally, this phenomenon also exists in the video game and many other industries.

These economic motivations have a direct impact on the social dimension of these schools, where power disputes and the forceful enforcement of hierarchical relationships are more than common. A genuine economic domination is exerted on professors and students.

The problems described in the first part and their causes are well known to workers’ and students’ organisations, who have been fighting against them for centuries, but also to the companies themselves, which know how to hide or exploit them when it is to their advantage, even if some of them seem to be trying recently to provide actual solutions.

The frequency and severity of problems encountered locally depends on a range of factors, and the responses from schools vary greatly. Some of them are not designed to help students at all, and others, although well-intentioned and sometimes well-designed, completely miss their targets, take up resources that would be better spent elsewhere, or have harmful side-effects.

We will now look at the solutions proposed by these different actors, discuss their relevance, outline those that seem most appropriate, and consider what we can do and demand to prevent entire generations of people interested in our industry from being bled dry each year.

  1. Many suggested solutions are dead ends or lies
  2. In order to move forward, changes must take place at all levels
    1. In the educational content
    2. TBA
    3. TBA
    4. TBA

The report will be made available as a .pdf and .epub once fully published.

The Libération and Gamekult articles we were talking about in the introduction are available, in French, here :